Fire Destroys Orange County Church
Posted December 10, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST
CEDAR GROVE — Orange County firefighters were out for much of Monday morning, battling a huge blaze at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church.
The fire broke out after midnight and destroyed the church interior and roof. The glow of the flames could be spotted from miles away. It took firefighters two hours to extinguish the blaze. By early morning, only the stone walls of the 65-year-old structure were left standing.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, but investigators have said it began in the sanctuary. As the heat dissipates, they will continue probing the ashes.
"We are in the process of talking to church members to find out what condition the church was in when they left," says Fire Marshal Mike Tapp.
Ironically, one of the firefighters, John Hughes, had attended services at the church Sunday morning.
Church members gathered Monday morning to see what is left, comforting each other and sharing memories of how much the church has meant to them.
"We all grew up there, got baptized there and planned on getting married there," says church member Paula Compton.
The congregation has already said it intends to rebuild.
Many church members had come out during the night to watch as firefighters strove to save as much of the building as possible. They also provided crews with food and water.
For church member Penny Parker, seeing flames take the interior was watching "years of memories."
The church organization is one of the oldest in the state, dating back to the 1700s.
"It is a sad time because of the history and the sentimental everything of the church, but it is a time to step back, take a deep breath, jump in and say, 'OK, God. What's next," says pastor Julia Dees.
In 1935, an earlier church building also was destroyed by fire, but the congregation rebuilt. That rebuilding cost $10,000. It might cost as much as $1 million to replace the church today.
Until the rebuilding is completed, the congregation will hold services at a nearby community center. andChristine RogersandAdrianne Traxinger